An FA Cup clash followed by a Premier League must-win match could spell double trouble for Chelsea as the English season reaches the business end
Two defeats in the last four games and everything at the top of the Premier League is up for grabs again after it seemed that the title race was done and dusted. Just four points now separate Chelsea and Tottenham, quite the slim margin considering only four games ago that number was 10. It still remains a significant a huge gap, but now the Blues cannot afford to make any mistakes that would ruin the incredible work of Antonio Conte and his players so far.
For months, Conte has been hailed as the saviour and as one of the best managers on Earth. And that is very true, no matter how the season ends. But between winning the double (FA Cup and Premier League) and losing it all is the difference between the winning coach Conte has proven to be at Juventus, and someone who is simply very good but just not enough.
The next week will be a crucial test of character for the former Italy coach: will Conte keep going hard and strong until the end, or will Chelsea’s small creaks turn into fractures? Against Crystal Palace and Manchester United, the two recent defeats, the Blues lacked that aggression that has been the difference between Chelsea and those behind them, enabling the side to demolish Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool and Tottenham at least once this season.
Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Spurs will be the first test. The repercussions could be tremendous for both managers and teams. If anyone were to win easily, the steam that would go in the engine for the rest of the Premier League could lead to a double, either end of London. Tottenham boss, Mauricio Pochettino, knows this, and will do his best to close the gap.
The consistency shown by Chelsea, especially compared to the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United – both huge spenders in the summer – or Liverpool and Arsenal – always disappointing – or even Tottenham, already close to winning last year, means the Blues clearly deserve the title. Having won 24 games, drawn three and lost five, Chelsea are deservedly leading the Premier League table, and nobody would argue that. Yet, football is football, and a couple of bad results would mean the Blues could end up with nothing.
The remaining games favour Conte and Chelsea, with Tottenham still having to travel to Leicester and play the London derbies with arch rivals Arsenal and West Ham. But one factor is on Pochettino’s side: Spurs have nothing to lose. Chelsea have been leading the Premier League since match day 12, for 22 consecutive weeks: to crumble now would be a huge failure. At this point, Conte should be keeping his focus on winning the next couple of games and then plan the future in Blue.
The rumours linking him to Inter Milan have been strongly dismissed by the man himself. But if Chelsea don’t take the Premier League trophy come May, will Conte keep his word? Everything he’s done so far, from delivering in no time, to rebuilding a team that seemed dead with very few additions in the summer, to his pitch side antics; everything could be lost in the matter of days. The character of Conte and his players is on the line: the Blues have everything to lose.